BY AL CROSS
FRANKFORT, Ky. -- A tortured relationship between a father and his son could have much to say about Kentucky Republicans' choice for governor next year.
State Rep. Steve Nunn, the estranged son of former Gov. Louie Nunn, said Tuesday he has given up on running for governor next year because he expects his father will run.
Louie Nunn, who was governor 30 years ago and is now 74, said he is "seriously considering" the race. "I think it would be an interesting and fun thing to do," he said.
Steve Nunn said last month that he was exploring the race and didn't think his father would run. For a while, some considered Steve Nunn, 46, the party's most likely nominee against Democratic Gov. Paul Patton.
But he failed to get his father's support when he asked for it about three weeks ago, and he said he has come to believe the speculation that his father will run.
"He's like an Old West gunfighter who wants to go out in a blaze of glory, with six-guns blazing," Steve Nunn said.
Republicans feared a father vs. son primary that could have become an unusual and ugly spectacle, perhaps reflecting the hurt and resentment that has plagued the
Nunns' relationship for a decade, most painfully during their divorces.
Steve Nunn said he never thought about running against his father but had hoped his own candidacy would repair the breach between them.
"Our family needs healing, like a lot of other families do," he said. "I hoped my interest in running for governor would lead to some healing. I thought it was an opportunity."
Before Steve Nunn took himself out of the race, state GOP Chairman Tom Jensen said the Nunns were the two Republicans most likely to run for governor. Now the likeliest may be Louie Nunn, who was the party's nominee in 1963, 1967 and 1979. He won in 1967.
No Republican has won the job since, and the party faces a daunting prospect next year in opposing Mr. Patton, a Democrat who is the first governor in almost 200 years who can serve full terms in succession, thanks to a 1992 constitutional change.
But that doesn't appear to matter to Louie Nunn, who also lost a race for the U.S. Senate in 1972, when he bore the burden of a sales-tax increase he had pushed through the 1968 legislature.
"I think if you've got something you want to offer, and something you can offer to the people, go out and offer it," he said, adding that he has ideas about schools, health care and transportation. "If they reject it, so what? It wouldn't be the first time." At another point, he recalled, "I always said I'd rather run than serve."
Louie Nunn said he wants to make sure he has no hidden health problems that would preclude either.
Asked if he is too old to be governor, Mr. Nunn replied, "I'm the same age as whoever I'm with. If John Glenn could orbit the Earth, I could make it over the hill to Frankfort, I think." Mr. Glenn, a U.S. senator and former astronaut, recently flew into space at age 77.
Despite the swirl of speculation about him, Louie Nunn has not made any formal move toward running, while two other Republicans have.
Pikeville lawyer Will T. Scott, the 1995 nominee for attorney general, filed an exploratory committee for the governor's race Monday, but said he hasn't decided to run. Steve Nunn is married to Mr. Scott's ex-wife.
Bonnieville publicist Peppy Martin, who worked in Louie Nunn's administration, said Tuesday she had closed her exploratory committee and plans to file for governor as soon as she can find "a proper running mate" for lieutenant governor.
Mike Duncan, an Inez banker and Republican national committeeman who chaired U.S. Rep. Jim Bunning's successful Senate campaign this year, has signaled to friends that he is unlikely to run, but he is reserving an announcement about his intentions until after Christmas.
Competition for Louie Nunn would be welcomed by some Republicans, such as Tom Handy of London, the commonwealth attorney who was the nominee for lieutenant governor in 1995.
"It's time for newer faces," Mr. Handy said. "His time has come and gone, and I don't know of anything that would tell me that he's got a solution for the problems of Kentucky. As far as Republican politics go, Louie Nunn has been and continues to be a divisive factor in the party."
Just before the 1995 primary, Mr. Nunn lambasted Mr. Handy's running mate, former Nunn aide Larry Forgy, in a paid speech on a radio station in the Nunns' hometown of Glasgow. Mr. Patton used the speech against Mr. Forgy that fall, and Mr. Handy said Louie Nunn made it for that purpose. Mr. Nunn denied that.
Steve Nunn said his father is a divisive force in the party and recalled that his mother, Beula Nunn, who was divorced from the former governor shortly before she died in 1995, once said of Louie Nunn: "If he's not running the show, he's running it down."
But Steve Nunn added: "He's to be commended for his involvement in politics in Kentucky. He's been as committed as any individual in Kentucky history, probably."
Louie and Steve Nunn have been estranged for several years, most publicly during the elder Nunn's well-publicized divorce in 1994, but Steve Nunn said a year ago that they were getting along better.
Asked Tuesday whether he would support his father, if his father runs, Steve Nunn said: "He's my dad. I wish him the best in whatever he undertakes."
He paused and said: "I sure miss my mom."